Friday, July 29, 2016

Stop the Presses for these Adrian Dresses (1940s Novelty Glamour at the Met)

Hi-ya, folks!!

When's the last time you saw a dress that made your heart skip a beat? I was minding my own business. prowling through the Met Museum's fashion textile collection (like you do), when I came across this knock-your-eye-out novelty print and about lost it. 

Where did you come from, you little piece of heaven right here on Earth? Where are you going so I can follow you there? This dress was a gift to the museum from Patricia Pastor, a former designer for Perry Ellis (!!), and Barry Friedman, an art dealer. When I traipsed over to the search bar and typed in their names, the Met yielded up fifty other charitable donations, including around 20 other Adrian designs! Somebody had an eye for the designer. What did I start doing but googling all the Adrian dresses I could get my hands on.

The artist at work

Adrian (real name Adrian Greenburg, b. 1903) wasn't unknown to me before I espied the dress of my dreams on the Met website-- he was the preferred costume designer for none other than The Bird's patron saint, Joan Crawford, in the 30's and 40's, at the height of her trendsetting starlet days. It was Adrian who dreamed up accentuating JC's wide, wide shoulders with yet wider shoulderpads, and created the eyepopping designs for 1932's Letty Lynton, including the famous dress from that film, for which a glamour-starved Depression era moviegoing audience lost its ever-loving mind. Department stores were flooded with knockoff "ruffle dresses" for quite a while after, as prom-goers and debutantes across the country struggled to fit the voluminous gown into their beaux's Studebakers. Oh, and the ruby slippers, a little piece of iconic costuming in a minor movie called The Wizard of Oz ? ALSO Adrian (he did all the wonderful and memorable clothes in that movie). He married winsome, petite Janet Gaynor (the wronged wife in Murnau's Sunrise) in 1939 and, two years later, quit MGM to run his own boutique. It was on the sales floor of this boutique that he suffered a heart attack in 1959, cutting short at 56 the life of one America's most inventive apparel designers.

What SHOULDER RUFFLES you have, my dear. The Letty Lynton dress.
I'd give my eyeteeth for a movie-quality pair of these in a 11...thanks...

I thought of Adrian through the lens of those Crawford designs and similarly sleek dresses he conjured up for other preternaturally beautiful screen stars, including Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. This "Adrian type" dress involves a lot of bias cut, slinky, femme fatale type designs that ran more refined than rococo-- what the shopgirl in your 1930's movie would wear after she was plucked from obscurity to be a rich man's mistress and society hostess. However! I was so surprised to see a number of whimsical and downright outré gowns in the Met's holdings, and more so to read that they were the backbone of his apparel collections. While a number of somber and sedate black frocks, always elegantly cut, always sharply executed, are present among the pieces (showcased in an exhibition in 2002 called "Adrian: American Glamour"), the real show stoppers are these crazy, GORGEOUS novelty print items.

Let's take a look, shall we?

If you're an art nerd like me, you might have immediately been struck, in the closeup of this black, white, and pink print, by the similarity between this print and the work of Salvador Dali. I love the frisson of indignation I felt for a moment thinking the good surrealist had been ripped off by some 1940's admirer of far-out art. Turns out, there's a good reason for you thinking this print designer owes a debt to Dali-- as the design was created by DALI HIMSELF. Could you die? Note the linebacker shoulder pads, accentuating the tiny, tiny waist of this dress, and the drama of the single patch of darkness on the left shoulder across an otherwise white-background textile. What "oomph!" this dress had!

Looking at this and the rest of the dresses in the collection, only makes me wonder why so many women's 80's and early 90's shirts/dresses/jackets go for the wrong kind of silhouette with this padding. There's nothing particularly butch or even oversized about this dress, save that lovely, clothes-hanger shoulder line. Most times when I try on clothes from the shoulderpad revival era, they're so billowy and just "bulked up" in the shoulders that it feels like I'm wearing a padded bra cup on either shoulder-- and it has that oddly humped look, too! Le sigh. 

This next dress is called the "Roan Stallion" dress-- can you figure out why?

I loooooove the starkness of the all-black background against the large scale of the horse. The columnar-shape of the dress and again that draped, feminine bodice with shoulderpads in a straight line... this is such a "dress as art" garment. Imagine walking into a crowded New York social event circa 1945 with just a chic chignon and a big gold cuff as dream life is so active, you guys.

Continuing the equine theme:

How gallant is the French chevalier on his mount? This is another of the Pastor/Fielding Met gifts. I wondering idly while pawing through these listings if they were the result of years of collecting or one lucky swipe-- I've definitely been in estate sale situations before where someone really liked a thing that it turns out YOU really like, and voilà. an instant collection is born. Imagine a closet in North Hollywood of some rich studio exec's wife who was just the bee's KNEES in 1945 and needed a wardrobe to match...all these dresses packed in tissue in boxes marked in a distinctive "A"...carefully put away the last time they were worn for the next time that became years and years later, and then finally not at all! I can't decide, as an incorrigible hoarder, whether it's better or worse for items like this to be in a museum-- while I appreciate them being protected for generations to come, isn't it a little sad they won't make a splash at any more ladies' luncheons or draw an audible gasp at a pre-theater cocktail party?

The pink and black motif here reminds me of Schiaparelli (shocking!) :
I can't quite tell what this would look like off a mannequin and on a real human form-- it looks like there's a scalloped sort of edge in the back, and that the skirt's draping gathers into a kind of mushroom shape? Which is interesting with the little swag over the right shoulder... and, goody! This one came with an Adrian label for us to ooh and aw over. Go ahead, I don't mind:

This item looks a little worse for wear for fading or dinginess in the bodice, but it's still a humdinger-- a field of daisies overrun by lambs! Nice work if you can get it, lambs.


I AM SO DISAPPOINTED ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF THIS DRESS. Look at what it obviously is-- a five foot swag printed with a Prussian uniformed officer...and yet we can't SEE the officer because of the way the item is hanging! I wonder if it was originally pressed in a way that you could get a better look at the main attraction of the dress, or if it looks better in person. Love the idea, hate that I can't see it better. How about that beautiful collar though? The draping and that red highlight is sick-en-ing.
Lastly, if you have around thirteen grand lying around that you're not doing anything with you can snatch up an Adrian of your very own! Check out this "The Egg and I" print from 1st dibs. I don't usually go for barnyard, golf, or hunting themes (three of the very rare exceptions from my buy-everything-and-conquer approach to vintage collecting, haha), but this is a very definite exception I would make. The colors!! 

Hope I'll be seeing you in some forgotten trunk at an estate sale or flea market some day, Adrian dresses! You are deeply loved by me!

What do you think? Which dress is your favorite? Are you a novelty print wearer or do you keep your clothes sedate? Seen any designer dresses that have knocked your eye out lately? Let's talk!!

I gotta get going, but have a WONDERFUL weekend and we'll talk again soon! Til then. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Where Does Love Go (1965) : Charles Boyer Sings!

Good morning!!

Long time no see! How've ya been? I'm peeping back in from the BLAZING, SCORCHED EARTH of Nashville, Tennessee to update you with a celebrity oddity I ran across the other day. Yep, the kind of thing only you and I would enjoy.

Confession: I cancelled my Spotify premium subscription the other day in a bid to cut down on some of the superfluous digital services we seem to mindlessly become entwined with (it's so easy to do!). As much as I love commercial-free listening, I figured with all the things out there, there had to be somewhere else I could get my music (legally, semi-legally, whatever) for free. And, in my spendthrift haze, I had completely forgotten that Freegal, a service provided by my local library, totally allows unlimited music streaming from something like 10,000 music labels, including Universal Music Group (which has subsumed SO. MANY. OLD SCHOOL. LABELS). While the user interface is barest of bare bones, hey, it's free! And no commercials. And so....many....weird things.

Such as? A contender for the prize of "Weirdest Midcentury Spoken Wordish Singing Record by a Celebrity" (the mantle formerly held by Dirk Bogarde alone)... this compilation of Gallic import Charles Boyer speak-singing, in French has flipped my wig to where it is completely on backwards.

Let's talk!

It's funny, but as with a lot of classic Hollywood stars, you don't get the full picture of Charles Boyer's movie impact in a still photograph. His receding hair and average stature, coupled with even but unprepossessing features, are nothing to write home about at first glance-- and yet put him in a movie and you're sure to be swept away by his suave, continental bearing, his smoldering glances, and above all, his dreamily pronounced French accent. Also, ascots. Boy, all the ascots. A heady combination for old school romantic movie-lovers such as ourselves.

Born in the Pyrénées in 1899, Charles Boyer became famous in America for a line from the trailer of the Pépé le Moko remake, Algiers, that never even made it into the finished film. "Come with me to the Casbah", pronounced trippingly on Boyer's tongue, became the "Come wizz meee to de Cazzbaaah" of a million celebrity impressionists, as famous in its day as "I vant to be a-lone". The sonorous, deep quality of his voice, combined with the rakish French accent, is pretty much irresistible. The year before his catchphrase was born, he played in a romantic weepy that won my heart, opposite Irene Dunne in Love Affair. That film would later be remade as the four-handkerchief classic An Affair to Remember... and if you'd have told me, pre-screening, that the person in the photograph on the left would give Cary Grant of all people a run for his money in a romantic who-played-it-best, I would have been skeptical to say the least. However! Boyer carries with him an urgency verging on pathos in most of his good scenes-- while he may start a movie haughty and remote, arch and distant, it seems as if there's always some turning point along the course of the filmplay where the music swells and you realize he's been torturing himself trying to suppress his love for you  his onscreen lady love for the better part of the movie. AND THAT, my friends, is what makes a truly indelible heartthrob in the Mr. Darcy mold. I've seen plenty of movies that were just "eh" (see: The Garden of Allah, in spite of its jawdropping Technicolor gorgeousness) in hopes of capturing one of those true heart-string tugging moments that the best of his movies include (see: All This and Heaven, Too). 

Which brings us to why I would be psyched to see his name next to a record in the Freegal holdings!

Initially, I was like "Whoa, TWO records of...wait, these are the exact same songs." Waaah. 

Is this record perfect? No, it is not. Is it totally fun? Yes it is. Is it weirdly more listenable than the Dirk Bogarde record (which, itself, has kind of grown on me)? Indeed! INDEED IT IS. My favorite part, bless my little beating francophone coeur, is that Boyer slips into French in half the songs-- "Autumn Leaves" and "La Vie Rose" both feature passages of the original French lyrics, a real treat for French speakers. I love the series of ideas that sprung to mind as I listened and sighed a swoony sigh:

  1. Do old-time French actors have a specific accent that is dated by its age/time period, in the way that 1940's actors (Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, etc) have a very specific way of talking even outside of their individual idiosyncracies? People in 1940's movies, stylized or not, have a very identifiable way of speaking specific to that era, which made me wonder: if a native French speaker listened to Boyer speaking in French, would they get a sense of old-fashionedness from his in-French accent that misses us for not being born francophones?
  2. Imagine going back to some dude's apartment in 1965, and he puts THIS on the hi-fi as a "mood setter"/possible makeout music? I think that's technically the intended audience for this and the Bogarde record, as a swoony-romance-y dim-the-lights music, but I would have fallen into a fit of giggles at the preposterous nature of the whole endeavor I'm pretty sure from Minute One. "Bolero" is obvious enough, but a record of a French actor speaking his way through love songs would just advertise subtlety as NOT being one of your strong suits, sixties' Mad Men era would be lothario.
  3. Also, think of Charles Boyer himself giving a "I'm game" go-ahead for this album, though professing to possessing no great vocal ability. Record company: "Charles, we're going to bring you in here to do a record." Charles Boyer: "And whhhy nawt?" with an insouciant toss of his diminutive shoulders. Go on, get your life, Charles Boyer.
Give it a listen yourself, and see what you think-- you can catch a lot of these songs on Youtube or Spotify or even Freegal, if your library subscribes.


And if you won't take my word it being good, did you know that no less a shining star than Our Elvis Presley who art in Heaven expressed a deep love of this record around the time of his Las Vegas performances? Read for yourself:

Whaaaat. You heard it here first! Or possibly second, if you've read those two Elvis books I just grabbed pull quotes from (the latter of which, Peter Guralnick's epic two-volume bio, is essential reading). My favorite part of that passage is that no one else liked the record because of its melancholy nature-- I guess there is a kind of sad undertone to the music, but that's about the only way I like it-- dramatic, romantic, BIG!

Anyway, it's good to get a chance to check in! I've definitely missed writing and interacting over here, and as always, hope to make good my promise to return to a more regular blogging schedule as time permits. In the in-between-time, I hope you're finding lots of great stuff out at the sales and enjoying the summer months as best you can for all this oppressive heat! Stay cool, and see you again soon! Til then. :)


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